The petitions keep flooding in. I think, if this is what it’s like to be a goddess, I too would reach my hand into that fish bowl and pluck out a half dozen and be done with it. But I’m not a goddess, I’m a secretary. As a witch, as a current apocalyptic housewife, as a paid profession. That’s always the skillset that defines me. I dutifully put all of the petitions on nice paper in a nice font and cut them out with nice scissors. I tie them each with handspun yarn. I count out candles. I count out tiny sugar hearts. I sing. I mantra. I raise my hands.
In return, my cake stand is broken in twain and tealight wax was spattered everywhere. I’m nonplussed and I have no idea what this means. Is my cake stand just old and glass? Maybe. Am I now powering up a la I’m Not Okay With This? Man, that would be super cool. Pewpewpew! But probably not. I have a lot of time to think about this as I am cleaning wax over every conceivable surface in my kitchen for several hours. I’m cross as I didn’t even make a petition for myself and here I was on my hands and knees scraping wax from everything. The tealights were far from the cake stand. What did it mean? As I surveyed the mess, I noticed that every actual object that had any kind of meaning survived just fine. Every tiny seashell, herb sprig, tealight hearth was undamaged.
Maybe it meant that we would survive this undamaged too.
Jow: I’m worried I’ll get it and I’ll give it to you and you’ll die because you’re compromised.
Me (crossly): I’m not dying from a grocery store disease. That is not how I’m dying.
We don’t say it. We never say it. Sometimes, the virus. Usually not. No one says it. Not my mother, not Jow, not my Amazon Network. No one ever says it. To say it is to summon it.
She sends me masks and keeps checking on the delivery date so I feel a tiny bit better.
She asks if I need anything from Shoprite, even though she’s working so many hours from home.
She takes tea and texts with me. She lets me drain my bitch gland which gets so swole right now when no one has time for cattiness because of the apocalypse.
He explains the intricacies of thirst traps which is much harder than it should be to completely wrap my brain around but it gives me something to think about that makes me laugh. He lays out what I should be doing with my Instagram. Less for thirst traps as my conception is still shaky and more for my life as an author.
She plays Scrabble online with me and we laugh about how much we’ve fucked our board.
He calls me, sensing I’m about to break down. I can’t talk about a lot of it, it’s too big. We strategize supplies instead, a welcome relief.
She messages me from another country, she asks about my heart while we compare notes.
He watches Vanderpump Rules with me so we can yell at the television and laugh together.
She reassures me that even though there have been cases in her building, she is going to therapy via phone and she is okay and she is helping to keep the justice system going.
We have virtual hangouts together, with groups in all kinds of configurations. Sometimes we drink, sometimes we wring our hands together, sometimes they make hats out of materials from around the house to make me laugh.
She sends me home with pork chops and bundt cakes. I bring her milk and bologna.
This is what love looks like in uncertain times.
She is crying at my door, heartbroken. Because the virus didn’t stop that. There are still so many broken hearts that had nothing to do with this strange time we find ourselves in. She feels like she’s going to come apart at the seams. I want to hug her so badly. Her hand is clutched around her dog’s leash. Through the top of the door, I pass her green tea and a crystal bowl filled with spring water for her dog.
We always have the same reaction – if we see the other upset, we want to do whatever we can do to stop it. Anything. Anything. I remind her of all the things she is doing and working on but she is too heartbroken to care. I have been that heartbroken and oh, it hurts. It hurts so much you think you’ll never heal from it. It hurts so much that a tiny piece of my own heart cracks, seeing her so distressed. Remembering my own past cracks and breaks to my heart.
I glance behind her as my neighbors are out and about. The world is both terrifying and boring right now. A dangerous combination at the best of times. I take a breath. I whisper to her that if she wants me to do A Certain Magic for her, I will do it. I have never done it before, and I don’t know what it will do. But I will do it. She sniffles and shakes her head. She asks me to read her cards. She’s never asked me to do that before. My heart is pounding, I’m worried it will be bad news.
A neighbor starts dawdling behind her but I press the deck to the glass door. I want you to think about your intention. What you want to know. Make it into one sentence. She nods. I’m going to shuffle the deck until you say stop. She says, Stop. I crouch down onto the floor and start turning cards. A solidly neutral reading.
It’s in her hands.
One of my cats is hiding under a rug, trying to entice the other cat into figuring out what could be that very intriguing lump.
And now they are making out. Under the carpet they just vomited on like an hour ago.
It’s so absurd all I can do is stare at them and think, This is my life now.
They have zero effs about anything. They snuggle together in their bed, they whine for food, they act out for food, sometimes they let us pet them.
Mostly, their lives go on, only slightly annoyed that I’m home all the time right now to scold them.
I have a dream where I am writing with a group of people. Medical doctors and various other people who are important. I’m taking the book out of the box and everyone is telling me how needed my contribution was. I’m doubtful, even in the dream. But my editors are happy and everyone around me is happy and telling me that I’ve made it.
The next day, my mother tells me I should write about this. This feels as imperative as my uncle’s directive to publish my book. My mother isn’t dying, but she is afraid. She doesn’t say it. That’s not the way of our people. But her face is pinched with anxiety. She’s mostly quiet. She’ll only watch the news once a day.
That’s why I keep “talking behind her back” on social media, regaling people with stories about her that would slightly horrify her to know that are being told in lurid detail. In these stories, my mother gets to be herself before the virus. The woman who claims to not care for dessert but clearly because she’s already eaten cake for breakfast already so there’s no need for dessert.
I think about how indigent she was in Sicily that she was cheated out of eating soft pillowy brioche rolls with creamy lemon ice sandwiched inside them. We never had this! She would cry. My sister and I would indulgently roll our eyes at each other. Where would you get this from, Ma? You were born in America. There were no brioche/ice carts in Brooklyn.
She would ask me so many questions there while drinking café Americano, blood orange mimosas and eating cannoli cream over breakfast because you didn’t even have to bother with the pretense of a cannoli shell. My sister would gamely watch this morning charade since we didn’t get a lot of television past CNN, while calmly eating her own piece or two of cake. They would extoll my virtues of having only the tiniest dab of cannoli cream and eating yogurt with dense bread over breakfast. This is particularly insulting later because neither of them gained a pound and I gained five while walking so much my ankles would throb. I am only just now starting to lose that weight. But I didn’t care then, I was far too happy to care or notice.
I would try to explain to my mother whatever I had picked up from paying careful attention to our guide, to our fellow travelers (some who spoke Italian), to the merchants and restaurant owners. At first, my patience would be as grand as it was from when I was a nanny, explaining this or that, several times if needed in several different ways. But this exercise could not, would not be completed until I finally said, Well, from all of my extensive experience in Sicily—
Because I had never been to the MotherNoodle either. So we would laugh and eat something delicious and everything was okay.
My mother’s interest in my writing, unless it’s about our family or about our personal ancestral practice, can be described usually as benign occasional vague interest. She’s proud I wrote a book. She’s proud that my book continues to sell well. She’s proud that I speak at events and on podcasts. Past that, we get a little hazy on the specifics.
She said, you need to write about this. No one has experienced this in either of our lifetimes. Be a voice.
The next day I got my statement from Llewellyn that they keep printing my book and that it keeps selling.
Omens never look the way that you expect them to.
I didn’t expect to be using social media to create safe-ish space for other people. For there to be a place to complain, have anxiety, be freaked out while also providing escape hatches for those inclined – Norwegian furniture is nice this time of year. I’ve tried to explain what I’m trying to do, but it’s hard to explain. Midwife to other people’s emotions? I don’t know. I just know there’s been a lot of intent set there. Sometimes, rallying other people is what gets me through the day.
There is always a time of day since the virus started, even before quarantine, even while I was still going to work and life was just really fucking stressful but semi-normal. The time of day differs – sometimes it wakes me up, sometimes it keeps me up, sometimes it’s mid afternoon, sometimes it’s right around sunset. This very special time of day is where everything inside me just starts screaming. My body feels unable to hold all of this uncertainty, all of this anxiety, all of these attempts to adapt to this life of no answers, only more questions. So inside, I scream. And I scream. And I scream.
Until I distract it by listening to a book, learning to make crackers, getting dressed and showered, spinning, weaving, making kale chips, doing a work out that makes me feel like a bad ass, making pretend brownie batter, whatever I can do with what I have inside the house. I’ve forced everyone closest to me to start playing Scrabble online. It keeps me sane. It’s a way to talk when I can’t talk anymore.
When you are trying to stop screaming internally and your internal voice (which usually is placid and calm and often gives you positive little Instagram-ish affirmations of what you offer as a person) is now screaming about how you are shit at everything, it’s hard to make art. It’s hard to write. It’s hard to want to have another virtual happy hour. It’s hard to want to talk to the people closest to you. It’s hard to want to keep offering encouragement for others because the screaming is
Just. So. Loud.
If all you can do is make the screaming stop, you are doing enough. If you can’t get the screaming to stop, you are still doing enough. Yes, I too would really like to be CRUSHING IT and writing my next book, losing weight through diet and exercise and being a perfect apocalyptic housewife. I give you pictures and recipes so that if seeing other people getting dressed and other people trying to make fucking crackers from scratch makes you feel a little better and like maybe playing Scrabble with your kid or trying to make crackers so you can said you did, then I did something.
But the screaming is in my head too. All the work outs and smoothies and fresh baked crackers won’t wash my brain clean.
So I’m learning to train it. And it’s really fucking hard. But nothing in my life has ever been any other way. Not for you either, Sister Queens. Not for you either. But together we can help hold each other up through the threads we’ve spun together through this weird modern life. So gossamer that it’s mostly through our computers, the finest of work. We can talk each other down from ledges together. We can cry and be frustrated about our new lives together. We can worry about money, our health, what the world will look like in six months together. We can laugh about all the stupid crap we’re watching together. We can create things that we never would have created together. We keep breathing. Together.
And that’s not nothing.